On Thursday, a rally in Beirut fell into violence as gunmen opened fire upon the protestors. The rally, organised by Hezbollah and Amal movements among others, was heading for the Beirut Palace of Justice when snipers began to fire. At least seven have died, with dozens left injured, in what President Michel Aoun called a return “to the days that we said we would never forget and never repeat.”
Protestors were marching to demand the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar, who they accuse of political bias in the investigation of last August’s Beirut explosion. The explosion happened last year when a fire ignited 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate in the Port of Beirut. The blast killed 218 people, injuring 7,000 others, and destroyed many buildings, leaving around 300,000 people homeless. The exact cause of the explosion is still unknown.
Earlier on Thursday, courts dismissed a legal complaint by two Amal MPs – Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zaiter – where they accused Judge Bitar of bias. The two former ministers are being investigated under suspicion of negligence over the port explosion.
The fighting started when snipers fired from buildings into the crowd around the central Tayouneh-Badaro area, leading to an exchange of assault rifle fire and rocket propelled grenades. The army were later deployed to prevent further fighting and search for the assailants, leading to nine arrests “from both sides including a Syrian”. Eight of those detained were members of the Christian far-right Lebanese Forces, according to the army. Interior minister Bassam Mawlawi noted that all the dead were from one side, meaning Shia.
In a statement, the Lebanese Communist Party denounced this return to “the stage of conflict and civil strife… which aims to move the collapsed country into an atmosphere of civil war, internal fighting and a de facto federalism“. The Party also condemned the ruling system’s “use of violence and internal strife [to obfuscate] the basic issue that the Lebanese suffer from, i.e. the repercussions of the economic collapse that it bears responsibility for, with the resulting poverty, unemployment, immigration, exploitation and existential anxiety over fate”.
The statement also levelled criticism at “the American delegates and their allies who do not waste an opportunity but are floundering in it to exploit this issue and others, as they usually do with all files, with the aim of fuelling the internal Lebanese division and achieving their political agendas in Lebanon and the region… The only guarantee for the Lebanese people will be the transition to a secular, democratic state that protects the independence of the judiciary and stops local and external interference from it, to put the citizen and his democratic, economic and social rights above all considerations“.